Kids Corner


Blessed Are The Idol Makers




When the birthday of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is celebrated later this year the faithful will find the famous multicoloured idols of the object of their devotions a little less bright. 

A court in Mumbai, India's commercial capital where Ganesh is worshipped more fervently than anywhere else, has told the estimated 40,000 craftsmen who live by making idols of the god that the plaster of Paris and fluorescently bright chemical paints they now habitually use are environmental hazards and thus illegal. 

Instead, the court said, Ganesh idols, some of which are dozens of metres high and weigh hundreds of kilos, must be made by using clay and natural colours, the norm until recent decades and India's economic boom.

Campaigners welcomed the decision: "I am very happy. There are at least 10 million families every year in just [the central state] of Maharashtra alone who have these environmentally unfriendly idols with highly toxic lead and mercury in the paint," said Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, who brought the court action,. "Only 20 years ago they were made with safe materials, and that is what we should do again."

However Anna Tondwalkar, a statue-maker and member of the co-ordinating council for Ganesh temples in Mumbai, said clay idols were "a thing of the past".

"We don't get enough artisans to do the work. Banning the plaster will ruin the precarious idol industry," she said.

Other artisans complained that clay statues are labour intensive and cost more as well as being much heavier.

Supporters of the judgment argue that in addition to the environmental benefits of avoiding toxic paint, clay dissolves in water better than plaster of paris and so the "unholy" sight of chunks of the deity scattered in streams, lakes or the sea after festivals is avoided.

The court decision has taken on a political dimension with local rightwing Hindu nationalists arguing that it is an attack on their religion.

Uddhav Thackeray, a leader of the Mumbai-based Shiv Sena party, issued a statement earlier this week saying that "no one has the right to interfere in Hindu festivals.

"The decision banning plaster of Paris for Ganesh idols has hurt Hindu sentiments. Shiv Sena will never tolerate this and will lead the fight against it," he told readers of the party newspaper.



"Environmentally unfriendly idols"? Of Ganesh?

These idols which solve all the problems of Hindustan and purportedly bring prosperity to this wonderful country, can't the godly idols themselves simply take care of the "unfriendly" bit on their own? Or is it beyond the power and scope of this otherwise 'all-powerful' idol?

[Thank the gods, we have Shiv Sena coming to the rescue of Ganesh ji!]

" 'Unholy' sight of chunks of the deity ..."? The holy idols ... unholy?

Just asking a few question, that's all!

[Dinesh C.Chawla]  


March 13, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), March 04, 2011, 1:03 AM.

In 1959, I was posted as an Asst. Manager of Sua Betong Estate - a rubber plantation located in Port Dickson, a seaside resort. We had a substantial South Indian work force and naturally had a couple of Hindu temples. All the festivals were colorfully celebrated, particularly Ganesh's birthday. At the end of this festival, the Ganesh idols would be consigned to the sea and suitable transport would be arranged for such a trip. When I received the bill, I was rather amused. The narration on the bill read: "Transporting one Hindu god and drowning in the sea at third mile - Transport cost RM 80.00." Of course, no offense was meant by Sardar ji who owned the truck to the lovable and wise elephant 'god' of the cheerful disposition, and known playfully to put obstacles in the way of those seeking a shortcut to heaven. This was to prevent any illegal immigration to heaven, I suppose, not realizing that his own journey would end rather unceremoniously in the sea.

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